Feb 27, 2019
Tensions in the Burg over small town balance become especially acute when our Plaza feels threatened. This month we shine light on “small scale” in our land use code. On February 12, the Planning Commission heard (and approved 4-1-1) the Ramsey/Valette 106 Matheson, mixed-use proposal, on the Plaza. Community members packed City Hall. Many expressed enthusiastic support for a vibrant new venue with chef Valette; others, however, requested a seat reduction of the proposed 231-seat “too-big-on-the-Plaza” restaurant.
Commissioner, Dan Petrik (DP), the sole NO vote explained his rationale, “(Though) I find the project…exceptionally well-designed…The existing uses on the plaza are our benchmark. Our role as commissioners is to impartially evaluate the facts and apply them to the legal standard…to find the project consistent with the purpose of the Plaza Retail District (PR) in our Land Use Code which states: ‘Promote uses that are harmonious with the special character of the Plaza, that are small-scale in nature, and that would not function effectively in another commercial district.’”
DP: “We need to have a public discussion that either re-affirms the purpose of the plaza or changes it to address evolving market conditions and resident needs.But, making a large policy decision about the cultural center of this town should be a deliberate act resulting from a community-derived vision or re-vision for the plaza and not in reaction to a specific personality-driven project…I do not find that the project is consistent with the plain reading of the purpose of the district.”
DP: “We have to look at what is harmonious with the existing Plaza. Its special character is based on its unique spatial design as a relatively small, intact, and intimate town square… and is unique and rare among small towns in California, frankly among small towns anywhere in this country…but it’s truly special beyond its small-scale physical features, deriving specialness from the dominant small-scale uses (surrounding the square) and the sense of place and calm energy they contribute to the relaxed wine-country small town charm—so attractive to residents and visitors.”
Small-scale in nature?
DP: “This scale of restaurant is very large by any measure, in any city, and unprecedented on the Plaza in the modern Healdsburg tourism era. It dwarfs the next largest restaurant, the 80-seat Dry Creek Kitchen.”
Would this restaurant function effectively in another district?
DP: “The point of the PR District is to reserve space for and to support uses on the plaza that could not function effectively elsewhere, where there isn’t as much pedestrian traffic. This project, because it is a destination business, could likely function effectively well in other districts.”
The commissioner’s concerns were echoed in public comments that focused on scale of use:
“The word tonight is BIG…Healdsburg has voted many times to stay small scale. By a large majority voters opposed measure ‘R’ which would have allowed large numbers of big, market rate houses in our small neighborhoods. Instead, measures ‘S’ & ‘P,’ supporting affordable and middle income homes, passed easily. Then, local citizens convinced the City to say ‘NO’ to more big hotels and tasting rooms downtown, even to a too big bridge over the river.”
“106 Matheson is the worst location in town for a 200+ visitor attraction. Just imagine the nightly congestion scene of vehicles piling up at that busy plaza corner. Dozens of dining visitors, unfamiliar and frustrated with our downtown parking scarcity, will be blocking traffic, stopping and waiting at the new restaurant to park or unload. And let’s not forget, each parking spot lost around the town square is a space lost to existing merchants…the issues here are clear, and decisions should not be about applicant popularity.…”
Before the final vote Petrik asked the to honor the purpose of the PR district; to consider the consequences of approval and instead support actions that “can avoid conflicts over future large-scale proposals like this on the Plaza.” Then requested that the City Council direct staff and the Planning Commission to address these issues “so we are prepared for the next large project proposed for the Plaza.”
The last day to appeal the decision was February 25, 2019
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